TONIGHT at Anfield we watched two of the best 20 teams in Europe go head to head. Being honest, being frank, we probably watched two of the sides that would rank fifth to 20th in Europe go head to head. Bayern, Real and Barca a solar system away; Juventus and Atletico possibly a world away; Dortmund mooching. We’ll find out that distance. That’s the next thing.
This thing though, this thing was a game between two good football teams — one of which is threatening to become proven as very good, threatening to become proven as heroes to a generation. Spurs turned up thinking they were on the verge of the next thing.
The match took place on the verge. On the verge of being a game which made Spurs the next thing. On the verge of being a game which made Liverpool the arch spoilers. On the verge of being a great game. A definer, a game which tells a story or leads to a story. A game which makes so much clear to us. On the verge of being that most wonderful of things for amateurs like me and professionals in the papers — on the verge of being narrative.
Instead there is no narrative to take. For parts of the game Liverpool were clearly the better side. For parts of the game Tottenham were clearly the better side. The draw was broadly a fair result. Everybody wants more than this, me included. But for some games 11 lads meet another 11 lads and it transpires they are, on the day, about as good as each other.
In a sense this is the story, the narrative. In a sense this is the important thing.
Spurs aren’t simply better than Liverpool this season. But they have been simply sharper. Been simply more focused. Done their day-to-day better and their week-by-week better. Done their jobs better and if anything nothing stings like that. They’ve been better at bits and those bits today were exemplified by Dembele and Kane. The bits were everywhere but they belonged to them in those key moments. They did the bits, the ugly bits, and then suddenly there was a man turning, lashing and wheeling away as the ball hits the inside of the post and goes in. Kane. He’s one of their own.
The game shifts from there. For 10 it was all Spurs. For 15 it was all Liverpool. For the last 10 it was all Spurs. It’s a fascinating thing, the way the intensity switches on and off, the way sides simply can’t keep this going. Score on top. Easier said than done.
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Sturridge was very poor for Liverpool. Possibly his poorest game for the club. He couldn’t get going or occupy players properly. Then he was replaced by Origi who occupied better but couldn’t find himself in the right position. Both Origi and Sturridge were crying out for one another. They didn’t want to be alone but they were very much so.
Instead Coutinho offered huge quality without much ongoing effectiveness. Lallana couldn’t be kept out of the action without impacting directly enough on it. There wasn’t quite the balance. Henderson pulled wide to force the issue but was unable to quite make it happen enough; in the middle him and Can coming off verging on second best. Lovren excelling, while Sakho toiled a smidgeon.
This is the strangest thing. Nothing is resolved today. We know no more. Sometimes 11 lads face 11 lads and everyone tries their best and everyone is smart and everyone does their business and nothing gets moved along because football isn’t scripted. It is inconvenient and awkward and is occasionally blunt.
Sometimes you watch two good sides and doff caps. These lads worked hard for themselves and their football team. They will do so again and again before this season finishes. The Reds need a smidgeon more ruthlessness before Thursday. But when hasn’t that been the case this season?
An alright night at Anfield. Up the Reds. Up at the Yellow Wall. Let’s stick it to them. This isn’t a cuddly friendly. Up the prickly Reds. Be pricklier.